Real World Realities
Even as Arizona’s controversial immigration law has yet to take effect (the countdown rapidly counts down to this Thursday), what has been a hotly contested theoretical issue has been steadily escalating into real-life consequences for Hispanic citizens and illegal immigrants alike. Thousands of illegal immigrants have moved out of the state, a fact vividly illustrated by a look at the local scene. The Wall Street Journal reports that, for example, 20 percent of the parishioners of St. Margaret Catholic Church outside of Phoenix have permanently left, while Hispanic neighborhoods have had their landscape altered as vacant houses and shuttered storefronts become increasingly common. Meanwhile, those who have decided to remain in the communities where they have made their homes and livelihoods are steadying themselves for increased enforcement, devising contingency care plans should they be abruptly separated from their children.
The supporters of SB1070 will tell you that that this law is about public safety, about cracking down on all that rampant border violence. Yet as Afton has pointed out, as has been extensively reported, and as William Finnegan writes in a piece that comes out in today’s New Yorker, this is about as nonsensical as it gets. The border is as safe as it has ever been. Apprehensions at the border are at the lowest that they have been in thirty-five years. Assaults on Border Patrol agents are far lower than that of normal police officers. And according to a 2009 F.B.I report, Phoenix—as well as San Diego, El Paso and Austin—rank among the safest large cities in the United States. All lie in the border states.
While border apprehensions have decreased, the deaths of migrants attempting to cross into the United States has reached appalling levels. In Pima County, Arizona, the medical examiner has been so overwhelmed by dead bodies that he has been forced to pile them in heaps in a refrigerated truck. Nationally, the Wall Street Journal writes:
“Last year, 317 Americans died fighting in Afghanistan. Guess how many migrants, mostly Mexicans searching for work, died crossing illegally into America? The Border Patrol collected 422 in the last fiscal year, part of a rising trend,”
The current fervor over immigration is at complete odds with reality. It is time that we stop projecting our own anxieties (over the economy, over fears of a changing nation…) onto those who share no blame, and who could be a vital part of the solution.